October 25, 2018
Tonight we read Homily 49 of St Isaac the Syrian. St Isaac begins to introduce us to how God‘s providence works for the soul’s advancement in things spiritually; in other words, how God leads us to greater intimacy with him and contemplation of him. A man makes his way through the ascetical life towards a disdain for the things of this world. He begins to contemplate is departure from this life and this contemplation begins to create a greater longing for the things of the kingdom. Meditation upon death must become a regular part of the spiritual life. So valuable is this remembrance of death, Saint Isaac tells us, that Satan greatly abhors the thought. He wars against it; seeking to make man focus upon the riches of this world, distracting him with things that appeal to the senses.
The more a man meditates upon death the more he is filled with wonder over the vision of divine things and longs for their sweetness. Theoria is a God given grace and fruit of repentance and an upright heart. Repentance and good discipline reveals to us God‘s providence in every aspect of our life. It shows is how God seeks to free us from the bonds of this world and to draw us to himself. Stirred by divine love a man becomes awestruck with wonder and his heart longs to be taken captive. There are moments when he no longer remembers himself and the ego is set aside radically. Through theoria God begins to reveal hidden things to man; those things that cannot be understood through human nature. Blessed is the man who is kept well this good seed once it has fallen into his soul.
July 12, 2018
Tonight we were able to read homily 43 in its entirety. St. Isaac describes the various modes of discipline in the spiritual life - the purification of the body and senses, the purification of the soul (which is freedom from secret passions) and finally the purification of the mind or the nous which comes from God‘s revelation of himself to us and raising us up to Divine visions. The third mode draws us into what he describes as hypostatic Theoria, where an individual begins to experience the limpid purity of his primordial nature as one created for God and union with God. In this experience one becomes awestruck with wonder at God; tasting what will be experienced in all of its fullness in existence after the resurrection. Such a state carries with it no sorrow or attachment to the things of the world. If we only knew the depths of God’s blessings we would long to experience that intimate union with him now and always.
We must remind ourselves that Christian mysticism is distinctive and unique. It comes about not through altering the consciousness through asceticism or meditation but through God’s revelation of Himself and raising us up by His grace as a prelude to beholding Him with mediation unto the ages of ages.
December 14, 2017
Tonight we completed Homily 27 and began Homily 28. Both have as their main concern, “Theoria”, or contemplation. St Isaac continues to stress the place and importance of Angels in our spiritual lives. They perceive the truths and mysteries of God and creation, including our spiritual state. Their main purpose is to teach and guide us in accord with the light of truth and God’s providence.
As human beings we know certain limitations in our reception of truth and capacity for Theoria. There is an inconstancy and unevenness in our response to God and so our confidence must also be tempered always in this world by fear of judgment. We must never cease to strive for vigilance.
Demons however only draw close to destroy us and not to profit us. While they share the keen vision of Angels they lack light and know only darkness. They can’t but lead us along the path of destruction. Less powerful than Angels, for this reason they still can influence us and deceive us through presenting a phantom of the truth.
November 9, 2017
With the concluding section of Homily 23, we reach the apex of St. Isaac’s thought on what he describes as pure prayer and what is “beyond prayer”. Prayer always involves the movement toward God, seeking him out and desiring Him, offering up supplication and pleas for his mercy. Pure prayer takes places when the law of God is embraced and fulfilled and when no thought or distraction commingles within the soul completely directed toward God.
Prayer always acts as the seed planted and what is beyond prayer, divine vision, is the harvesting of the sheaves. Theoria, knowledge, or noetic vision is an operation of the Spirit who guides the soul. Our senses and their operations become superfluous and the soul becomes like unto the Godhead by an incomprehensible union and is illumined by a ray of sublime Light. The understanding gazes in ecstasy at incomprehensible things that lie beyond this mortal world. This is the “unknowing” that has been called higher than knowledge; a walking in the darkness of faith where one comes to know God as He is in Himself.
Discussion also ensued regarding the struggles of the Western mind to grasp the spiritual tradition of the Eastern Fathers; the moralizing and legalizing of the spiritual life and virtue versus deification.
October 26, 2017
Homily 22 and 23 bring us to the denouement of the preceding Homilies. The pursuit of stillness and the purification of the faculties of the soul prepare the soul to be raised to the state of Theoria - to experience God not in light of his operations but in accord with the nature of his being. It is silence in all things and beyond articulation. St. Isaac ultimately describes it as a state beyond and above prayer. One enters by grace into the treasury. Every human device becomes still because inadequate and one simply tarries long, for the Master of the House has come - the Bridegroom has arrived.
October 19, 2017
In the final pages of Homily 21, St. Isaac labors vigorously to help us understand that aim and end of the solitary life and one focused on stillness. The call to such a life is rare but it acts as a icon for the Church of “choosing the better part”; of a life that seeks what endures unto eternity. It presents us with a vision of the wonder and mystery that we are destined to share in all of its fullness in God. The solitary keeps his eyes focused upon Christ alone - forsaking even the admonition of the Gospel to love and serve others, as those in the world do, but instead pursuing the purity of heart and prayer that prepares the soul for theoria. Eventually all things are consummated in Christ, and all virtue and works of love are perfected and completed in God.
The stillness of the solitary is silence to all things - to remain in the silence that allows God to speak a word equal to Himself - to walk in the darkness of faith that allows a soul to encounter God as He is in Himself.
Do we desire God above all things? Do we seek to make his love the measure of our life? Do we make eternity the aim and goal that we pursue whatever our station and vocation may be?
September 14, 2017
Tonight we came to the conclusion of Homily 17 of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Isaac continues to discuss the Chaste life and how to protect it. He instructs us to keep our inner life a private affair. We must not reveal what is most intimate and our relationship with God or our vulnerabilities. We must never put ourselves or God to the test nor must we retaliate when we are condemned by others. Gluttony must be avoided at all costs and we must avoid rich foods so as not to weigh ourselves down. Silence is to be guarded as most valuable and in this we should avoid talkativeness and flee theological discussions. We must occupy ourselves with one thing alone – our relationship with Christ.
In Homily 18 St. Isaac begins to speak to us about the stages of the spiritual life. In particular he focuses upon the violence we must do to ourselves in order to transform the passions - fasting, reading, vigils, prostrations. Such must be embraced to stoke the fires of devotion and compunction which give way to tears that cleanse the heart. We must keep our focus on these disciplines and not hurry indiscriminately towards the higher forms of prayer. To do so would be to subject ourselves to potential delusion.
May 11, 2017
Last evening we picked up midway through Homily Six where St. Isaac takes up the topic of the vision of the divine in the Kingdom. Such vision and its nature is predicated on the individuals degree of perfection and its gifts. Yet, Isaac is quick to remind us that there is no division amongst us and the experience of God despite how this experience is perceived. There is no disunity or division in heaven and no comparison of gifts. Each delights in the experience and continues to be drawn into the fullness of God.
Following upon this, St. Isaac would have us understand that there exists only Gehenna and Heaven and no other state. It is foolhardy to propose an in-between state that is somehow greater than Gehenna but not yet the Kingdom. Such a notion speaks of an individual's hope that the one can live this life without a sense of urgency rooted in our ultimate end. Every moment is freighted with destiny because every moment is an opportunity to love - an opportunity embraced or set aside. To propose anything less is to foster false hope as well as mediocrity and lukewarmness.
A rather lengthy discussion ensued about the differences between Eastern and Western spirituality; in particular the use of discursive mediation and the use of imagination among Western writers and the avoidance of it among the Eastern ascetics. While largely a part of our spiritual patrimony those in the West have not been catechized in the Ascetical theology and practice of the East and the understanding of the active life as being rooted in the purification of the passions and the development of unceasing prayer. The understanding of the Church as a hospital and a place of healing and Christianity being an Ascetical religion has largely been neglected in recent generations as well as its impact on our understanding of liturgy, religious art and life as a whole.
March 2, 2017
Last night we considered the proper measure of discretion needed in ascetical pursuits; dedicating your soul to the work of prayer; pursuing the life of solitude with those who share your desire; the importance of reading in stirring the heart to contemplation; the necessity of almsgiving and the willingness to live with scarcity. We discussed implications of Isaac's for those who live in the world and pursue purity of heart.
December 1, 2016
In a magnificent closing to Homily Two and beginning to Homily Three, St. Isaac in a short few paragraphs lays out for us the types of passions and their nature and how a soul determines growth in the spiritual life. Measure your way of life by what arises in your thoughts. It is only with toil that the soul enters understanding of the wisdom of God and if she becomes still to the world and the cares of life; for then she can come to know her nature and what treasures she has hidden within herself. She will be lifted up twoard God and filled with the wonder of God; knowing the living water of the spirit that bubbles up within the soul. As the senses become more confined, the soul becomes more open to the contemplation of God.